From my journal, 10 February
As I made my way from a taxing day of disciplining undisciplined ten year olds, I was tired and a tinge frustrated. My mind wandered back to Ayush relentlessly using his pencils and desk as a drum set, to Nupur proudly applying glue in her braids the same way she would a hair mask, and to Jeevan dancing uncontrollably to ‘Taki Taki’ in the middle of what was supposed to be math class.
I was far from being aware of my surroundings, far from being grounded in the present moment. And yet, albeit moving along in a largely disconnected and distracted state, the sound of a musician playing the flute somehow managed to draw me out from the grip of my thoughts.
Heading towards the music, I found myself standing besides another passerby, both us of remaining relatively still against the backdrop of constant hustle-bustle that makes up Indian society. Outliers in a sea of movement, we allowed a few silent moments to pass in wordless appreciation of the music until this stranger whispered a barely audible “क्या बात है” [kya baat hai], then was on his way again.
The phrase, certainly not directed to me or to anyone in particular, fell effortlessly from his lips. And as I began to make my own way home, it did not matter that I was unaware of its actual meaning (a pretty decent indicator of the state of my Hindi skills…). The three small words remained on my mind.
That same night, upon approaching my host sister for help in translation, I learned that ‘क्या बात है’ means ‘what a thing’. No fancy vocabulary. No profound metaphors. Only three simple words loosely strung together. And yet, they manage to convey, in my eyes at least, a significant degree of emotion. I see an expression of awe, of gratitude, of admiration. I see an expression of acknowledgement, of simply taking a moment to notice and accept something for no more or no less than what it is.
Somehow, no doubt by a stroke of luck, this phrase did not endure the same fate as most of my other Hindi vocabulary (in other words, erased from memory within a 30-minute time span). Instead, ‘क्या बात है’ manages to live on, and now plays a role in what I see and how I experience. It is enabling me to become more aware of my surroundings, to further ground myself in the present instead of having my mind lose itself in the past and future, to notice gestures or acts or views or aspects of everyday life that I had previously passively accepted as being ‘just the way things are’. It is bestowing me with a pair of more receptive, more appreciative eyes – and especially as I am nearing the end of my program, this could not be more important.
Having been in India for what is now over five months, it has become too easy for me to fall into a routine, to constantly think about ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’, about what has past and what has yet to come. I often find myself strolling through the streets or traveling in the rickshaws nearly blind to my surroundings. Perhaps even sadder still, as a result of having grown to feel at ease in the space that I occupy, this sense of awe, of magic almost, that I had at once fostered is beginning to entirely dissipate before my eyes. I easily walk past the herd of goats blocking rush hour traffic, or the piles of roadside spices, or the flurry of rickshaws, or the exquisitely coordinated saris, or the rows of pani puri vendors – and all with barely a second glance, with barely a moment to stop and acknowledge the beauty of these elements so intrinsically linked with my experience in India.
And yet now, through क्या बात है, I am reminded more than ever that I want to live my life with a greater sense of appreciation, or more generally acknowledgement, for what lays in front of me. Slowly but surely, with the help of these three words, I am beginning to regain some of this appreciation for what I have grown to take for granted in a place that is no longer so new or unfamiliar. And most the times, this acknowledgement does not come to me naturally. Most of the time, it takes a moment of deliberately opening my eyes, of taking a step back, and of whispering ‘kya baat hai’.
I am in India. I have made for myself a place in a society in which only six months ago, I was a complete stranger to. I now feel at home in a land more than 14 thousands kilometers from where my roots are planted.
क्या बात है – Kya baat hai, what a beautiful thing.